For Don Mattingly, it was darned if you do, darned if you don’t.
Three times Tuesday, Mattingly found himself in situations where he had to decide whether or not to order an intentional walk with first base open.
And all three times, the decisions backfired for the Marlins manager.
Whatever the strategy, the Nationals made Mattingly and the Marlins pay in their 12-3 victory.
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“They’ve got a good lineup,” Mattingly said of the Nationals, who have built a substantial lead in the National League East. “They put you in a box in a number of different ways.”
Washington jumped out to a 2-0 lead when Mattingly decided not to walk Bryce Harper — and instead take his chances with Ryan Zimmerman and his .346 average — with runners at second and third and two outs in the third.
The result: Harper delivered a two-run single.
In that case, Mattingly said he was concerned that putting Harper aboard wouldn’t leave starting pitcher Edinson Volquez with any wiggle room. On top of that, Harper had gone 1 for 12 against Volquez to that point. Zimmerman was 4 for 9 against the veteran right-hander.
Volquez said it was “50-50” whether it would have been better to face Harper or Zimmerman.
“Harper’s a good hitter and he put a good swing on it,” Volquez said.
In the fifth, Mattingly went the opposite way, putting Harper aboard with a man on second and two outs.
The result: Zimmerman promptly doubled in two runs.
Mattingly then felt compelled to walk Daniel Murphy, with similar results. Stephen Drew made it 6-1 with a RBI single.
“They’re pretty good,” Volquez said of the Nationals’ lineup. “You never know who’s going to hit you in that lineup. So give some credit to them. They were all over me (in the fifth).”
All told, the Nationals scored five of their first six runs directly on the heels of Mattingly’s to-walk-or-not-to-walk managerial moves.
It didn’t help matters for the Marlins that starting pitcher Edinson Volquez experienced more control issues with five walks — two intentional.
Or that the Marlins had trouble with Nationals starter and Hialeah native Gio Gonzalez.
Gonzalez went seven innings in improving to 7-1 with a 2.96 ERA.
“Gio was really good tonight,” Volquez said of his pitching counterpart. “We’ve been scoring a lot of runs and he pitched pretty good night.”
Marcell Ozuna clubbed his 19th home run, a two-run shot in the fifth inning that made it 6-3.
But the Marlins lineup didn’t do much after that. Nationals pitchers retired the final 12 Marlins hitters.
The Nationals blew it open with a five-run ninth inning in which an error by shortstop JT Riddle figured prominently. The inning continued the struggles of reliever Brad Ziegler.